causes, child protection, nonprofit

It’s not just child trafficking.

The other morning while I was driving to work down I-83, I saw the following billboard.


Let me be clear, I would be the first to tell you that child trafficking is one of the most insidious crimes going on in this country right now. And, I admire and appreciate the fact that the FBI is waging such a public campaign to elicit citizens to help end this scourge. However, ending child trafficking is only part of the problem. It’s a bit like cleaning up an oil spill without ending the oil leak. It’s a necessary step, but it’s not fixing the whole problem.

Why doesn’t the billboard implore drivers to Help the FBI End Child Sexual Abuse? Or Child Abuse, in general? (I have issues with the term “child prostitution,” but that’s a post for another day.)

Indeed, there are incidences of child trafficking and prostitution that resulted from a child abduction, but most cases of child trafficking victims aren’t like the movie, “Taken”. These are children who’ve experienced multiple adverse childhood experiences, among them child abuse and sexual abuse. In fact, 90% of children who are commercially sexually exploited have a history of sexual abuse, according to National Institute of Justice. (2007). Commercial sexual exploitation of children: What do we know and what do we do about it? (Publication NCJ 215733). US Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs.n.

Baltimore Child Abuse Center spends a good amount of time working with and helping prevent child trafficking. For over five years now, our forensic interviewers have helped with FBI investigations when cases of child or human trafficking have been discovered. We sit on a variety of task forces, and one of our staff members is one of the state’s (if not the nation’s) leading experts on approaches to combating child sex trafficking.

If there’s anything that we’ve learned in 25 years of forensic interviewing and intervening in child sex abuse cases, it’s that a child deserves the best possible response so that they can find justice and heal. Further, they would be far better-served if we began to concentrate more of our efforts at the root of the problem, rather than responding to situations further down the road.

Perhaps it’s our absolute revulsion over the idea of a child being sold into prostitution that makes such public campaigns and outrage plausible, but I believe firmly that we all should be equally repulsed and ashamed by the fact that children are being abused and sexually abused in every community across Maryland and the entire U.S. Where are the massive public campaigns to stop it?

To my colleagues and advocates in the field who work tirelessly to prevent child trafficking, I salute you. And I also ask, what else we should be doing to prevent these children from ending up in that predicament to begin with?


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